Archive for January, 2013

“Drop the Software Testing Baton”

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

A software tester, with a determined look on his face, walks briskly up to your desk and blurts out, ‘It doesn’t work.’  After you sigh, your mind oscillates between responses of, ‘Okay, let me look into it,’ and ‘What the heck do I do with THAT?’

Developing and testing software should be less of a series of hand-offs between tester and developer, and more of a collaborative, ongoing conversation.  Even with the most well-intentioned of testers, the baton is often passed off to a developer because the tester has run out of debugging options.  FAST has eliminated that baton pass forever.  The testing approach and automation that we used on a recent project played a significant role in allowing us to convert a company’s life insurance policy administration system in only five months.  No one on the project could have imagined this pace being possible without efficient and effective testing woven into the entire project.

Empowering the Team

We created a debugging tool easy enough for everyone on the team to use…

  • A failed test condition was no longer the end of the road
  • What went right, what went wrong and precisely where it went wrong was clear as day
  • Corrections were made simply – using spreadsheets  and configuration changes
  • Painstakingly documenting detailed recreate steps became a thing of the past

With the debugger everyone on the team could,

  • grab the exact xml being tested
  • use it to step through the business logic and rules to see what was happening

Testing & Automation

The test driven approach of FAST 8x and the Test Case Manager are the perfect complement to the debugger.  They both offer tremendous value, FAST 8x automation drives testing efficiency while the Test case manager increases effectiveness.

  • FAST 8x: the test driven approach automatically test APIs, eliminating the need for regression testing the application
  • Test Case Manager: tool for actuaries and the product team to test a variety of permutations using the calc spreadsheet independent of the application
  •  Calc spreadsheet: designed for actuaries, by actuaries, an easy to use UI allows the team to create  their own scenarios  and eliminates their reliance on a technical resource to update code

As we used these tools, it was really cool to watch the traditional software development lines between tester and developer disappear!


The benefits of using these tools to debug and test business transactions and calculations were numerous.

1)      Transparency of business processes to the business owner with a user-friendly spreadsheet which is easily traversed

  • This transparency promotes a feeling of trust between the vendor and the client

2)      Business knowledge transfer was a by-product of the transparency of the business rules

  • The tool facilitated business process discussions with the client

3)      Continuous testing of the business logic and rules

  • Resulted in a condensed ‘testing phase’ and quicker deployment

4)      Perpetual vendor reliance was eliminated

  • The client quickly internalized how they could maintain these business rules on their own

5)       Small steps and simple calculations demystify complex calculations

  • Logic is not buried deep in layers of code and errors can be fixed by dragging and dropping the appropriate orchestration step into the right place

As a Business Analyst, the tools were cool and fun to use.  They created a great sense of accomplishment across the team – issues could be quickly pinpointed and then corrected through configuration and I could fix bugs on my own!  And as for the Actuaries being able to create and test their own calculations, let’s just say they got as excited as actuaries get…

After the success we achieved, I can’t imagine a project without it!!!


Sharon Amos, Business Analyst



Powering Software Development: Technology and the Virtual Project Team

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself. – Henry Ford


Most people believe that successfully completing an Agile project with multiple companies, across different locations is impossible… As technology continues to change where and how we do business, this is no longer a valid assumption.  When implemented thoughtfully, any organization, large or small, can leverage today’s technology to create powerful teams capable of developing great software – faster than ever imagined and at a lower cost.  Using Skype and an HD TV outfitted with a web cam, a company is armed with the all tools it needs to create a dynamic virtual environment for software development projects.  Working closely with a customer in this manner offers significant benefits for both the service provider and the customer -

  • more software is developed accurately the first time because communications are clear and e-mail ambiguity is avoided
  • time is saved as bugs are addressed and resolved immediately because there are no “voice messages left” or “calls to return
  • a unified project team works closely together – this strengthens trust, fosters morale and drives a successful outcome
  • working software is put into production more quickly and at a lower cost

FAST’s Virtual Office

With each customer engagement, a Warp Zone is established – a dedicated project room equipped with a web cam and a large, flat screen television.  Through the Warp Zone, we see our business partners in their normal working environment and they set-up a similar environment so they see us as well.  The cameras remain on all day throughout the life of the project.  Initiating a conversation or asking a question takes a simple wave to the camera.

Working together this way allows us to dig in and understand our customers’ business processes and their needs, so we can provide the best solutions possible.  The reverse holds true as well – customers get a true understanding of the application.  And with regular demonstrations of new software, we receive immediate feedback and can ensure the functionality supports the business needs.

In addition to the benefits related to the project and customer relationship, this structure helps avoid many of the inefficiencies of traveling.  This translates in to soft dollar savings stemming from increased work time and productivity and the improvements in morale associated with less travel along with the obvious hard dollar travel and expense savings.

The FAST model incorporates our offshore development team to accelerate the project timeline.  With Skype and the Warp Zone, a rotating schedule of morning and evening calls with the team keeps everyone on the same page and extends the workday as development continues after the sun sets.  In addition to eliminating many of the quality issues often associated with an offshore team, the Warp Zone’s face to face interaction enhances the daily scrum and software demonstrations while Skype is an integral part of the collaborative development approach fostered by an Agile software development philosophy.

Real Results

Ultimately, leveraging technology to create collaborative work environments enabled us to extend the workday, streamline communication and work in partnership with a customer to convert an entire Policy Admin system in only 5 months.  The efficiencies gained through this approach allowed to us complete the project within budget and in record time.